By Jen Cooper and Chuck Hamma
After about a two-minute battle, 11-year-old Nicholas Labita pulled his fishing line out of the water. A beautiful, two-pound rainbow trout was still jumping and pulling, hooked on the other end. As he lifted the catch, he flashed an incredulous smile at his dad –who had been standing next to him all along, without helping. Labita asked his dad if he could keep the fish. The man nodded in approval, took the fish off the hook and proudly began cleaning and fileting it.
Labita was just one of the near thirty young anglers who participated in the Spring Family Fishing Festival this past Saturday at Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon. The festival, which normally offers fishing seminars and other activities for kids, had to be scaled back to just a free fishing clinic due to the snow and cold temperatures announced in Saturday’s forecast.
“We basically scaled it back in case people were brave enough to deal with the cold weather,” Walter Burak, an aquatic biologist and event organizer from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said. “So at least we would be able to have one of our little fishing clinics, which is what this has turned into.”
Nearly two hundred people ended up coming out to participate, Burak said. Prior to the clinic, the DEC stocked Belmont Lake with over 1,000 brown, brook, and rainbow trout to give anglers a great chance of catching something, he said.
Saturday’s event was primarily steered toward younger fishermen like Labita, to help get out in nature and away from technology.
“It gets kids out and interested in the outdoors,” Chris DeRose, an Environmental Conservation Officer for the DEC, said. “It gets them out from in front of a TV or playing video games and teaches them how to fish.”
Some of the more seasoned anglers like Mattituck resident Sandy King-Moeck, say fishing can bring back old feelings of enjoyment on the water with family members.
“I think it’s both relaxing and recreational,” she said. “My interest in fishing was reignited because my son is interested in it.”
Her 15-year-old son, Steven, said he got into fishing he went on a fishing trip with his dad at the age of six.
“My dad took me out on his boat, I caught a fish, and then I just got interested,” he said. “And now during the summer months, I go fishing any day that I can.”
Saturday’s event was part of the efforts from New York State to further encourage fishing in New York. Under the Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative, free clinics like the one at Belmont Lake give people a chance to try fishing at no cost and encourage them to purchase a state fishing license.
Though the weather did not cooperate with the original plans for Saturday, which included a casting contest and learning how to fly fish, there will be another opportunity for a full experience at Hempstead Lake State Park in the fall.